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13 Tips for user-friendly forms people will actually fill out

Erik Kangas
Erik Kangas
LuxSci, founder Erik Kangas has an impressive mix of academic research and software architecture expertise, including: undergraduate degree from Case Western Reserve University in physics and mathematics, PhD from MIT in computational biophysics, senior software engineer at Akamai Technologies, and visiting professor in physics at MIT.

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Forms are a smart way to solicit and receive feedback on your company’s products, services, customer relations, and more. Getting people to fill out online forms completely is difficult but not impossible. Take a look at a few secure ways to make your forms more engaging.

Target Specifics

A form should take a few minutes or less of an employee’s, vendor’s, or customer’s time. You cannot crowd all the questions you want to be answered about your entire business into one form and expect people to fill it out accurately (or at all). Instead, target a specific area where you want feedback. Maybe customer service is where you want to input the most or on your latest product or service. Ask questions about that specific thing and leave the other queries to a different form.

Create a Strong Title

Let customers or other form completers know the purpose of the form in a short, concise title. This preps the person for what questions to expect and gets them in the right frame of mind.

Keep It Simple

Most people have filled out forms online before so you should tap into that familiarity. There’s no need for an overly creative or innovative form when a simple one works fine. Label buttons with words like “Next” and “Back” so people know exactly what’s required as they navigate the form. Provide people with predictability in-forms, and they will more easily complete them and not feel confused.

Add Enough Space

If the text looks too cramped or cluttered, people will feel overwhelmed and may not complete the form. Make sure each question is distinctly separated from the next with an appropriate amount of spacing; the same is true for spacing between questions and answer options.

Create Sections

Similar to the spacing suggestion, segmenting the form into discernable sections makes it easier for readers to comprehend. It also gives a snapshot of the major portions of the form. People like to skim the text to get a big-picture view of what you’re asking them; they like to feel comfortable and prepared.

Use Left Alignment

People read most quickly when they can go straight down the line. If the form requires eyes to dart from one part of the page to another, readers will quickly lose interest. Keep your form looking sharp with left alignment all the way down.

Show Progress

The last thing you want is people failing to complete a form just because they don’t know when it’s going to end. Show progress at the top as people fill out answers either in the number of questions format or in percentage completed. This will free people from worrying about how long the form will take to fill out and allow them time to give the most accurate, straightforward answers.

Consider Theme

Believe it or not, asking people to fill out a form is an opportunity for brand messaging. People who choose to fill out a form, whether it’s a customer service survey or a potential product survey, are deciding to engage with your business and brand. Keep this in mind and design forms that integrate your company brandings such as colors, text, and logo.

Make It Mobile Friendly

People spend a lot of time on their mobile devices, particularly smartphones. In fact, mobile Internet usage in the U.S. has surpassed desktop usage. Take advantage of the familiarity people have with mobile devices and make sure your form is readable and easy to navigate on the go.

Encourage Open-Ended Responses

In some cases, a “yes” or “no” answer will suffice, but if you really want more input in your business operations or products, you need to ask some open-ended questions. Allow people to add their own thoughts that may lie outside the realm of the specifics you asked. You should also include a section for additional comments on anything the person feels is relevant to the form he or she just completed.

Allow Optional Fields

If a person feels uncomfortable with a specific question on a form or truly is not sure how to answer, he or she may abandon it altogether. Avoid this by allowing optional questions. Some questions are integral to what you want to answer as a business, such as demographic questions like age or income level, but if a question is not essential to glean the information you want, make it optional. It’s better to keep a person inside the form, filling at least some of it out, than for that person to completely abandon it.

Offer Hints

Most forms will connect to an export system that then compiles all the data in an easy-to-read way. For that data export to run correctly, users may need to follow a specific format for things like dates. If your form has answers that need a specific format, offer hints underneath or next to space, and display clear and helpful errors if the form-filler enters that information incorrectly. If format truly doesn’t matter, don’t worry about hints or errors that could slow down or confuse them.

Edit the Form

Once you’ve created the first draft of your form, review it and delete any information that isn’t essential. You probably don’t need a phone number or fax number, for example, but an email address is likely helpful. Do you need to know whether the person filling out the form is a “Mrs.” or a “Ms.?” Maybe not. Remove any questions and responses that do not further the purpose of your form so you can free up the person’s time to answer the truly pressing questions and increase your response rate.

An effective form considers its respondents’ time. Show the people filling out your form that you care about their time and input by creating a concise, effective form that asks enough but not too much in the way of personal information or time commitment.


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